Thanks to the Lahontan cutthroat trout, three Washington lakes stand out as prized fisheries even though their waters are too alkaline for virtually all other sportfish.
However, Lake Lenore’s standout fishery south of Coulee City took a hit in recent years from Eastern European gillnet poachers who stole untold hundreds of fish from the lake. Four gillnetters were caught with 242 mature cutthroats and convicted in Grant County of illegal fishing last year.
Chad Jackson, Washington Fish and Wildlife Department fisheries biologist, says research is needed at Lenore, but indicators suggest there’s still a decent fishery for anglers and that poaching hasn’t had a big impact.
Lahontans, an imported strain that evolved in Nevada, also can be caught in Washington at Grimes Lake southeast of Mansfield in Douglas County and in Omak Lake on the Colville Indian Reservation south of Omak.
Lenore opens March 1. Grimes opens June 1. Both are selective-gear fisheries. Omak Lake is open year-round with bait fishing prohibited.
Lenore is drawing the most concern from anglers, some of whom say the poaching apparently has decimated the fishery.
“Lake Lenore does need to be investigated,” Jackson said, noting that staffing and budgets have stalled the project. “Maybe next year.”
Meantime, he’s pieced together a theory for the disappointing fishing success many Lenore anglers have reported:
“The upper north end springtime fishery is no longer the slam dunk it used to be. The reason appears to be related to the lack of spring and ground water input at the upper north end that attracted thousands of cutthroat, most of which are pre-spawn fish.
“Now, these cutthroat appear to probe in and out of the upper north end randomly waiting for the spawning channel to ‘charge up’ with water.
“Based off reports, if an angler happens to be fishing when a pod probes into the upper north end catch rates are really good. If timing is bad, anglers may not touch a fish.
“Interestingly, I never hear or see any anglers fishing a little bit lower from the upper north end (up, down, and around from the closed section around the mouth of the spawning channel), which is where I would suspect these fish to be staging.”
Fall fishing continues to be very good, especially in early November and at the south end of the lake, he said.
“Based off anecdotal accounts of abundance and size of cutthroat in the spawning channel (March-April), the ‘quality’ of Lake Lenore doesn’t seem to have changed much,” he said, noting that staff handled fish ranging 15-30 inches.
“While absolutely gross to read about, the poaching doesn’t appear to be having a major impact on the population.”